Lake Bunyonyi is a breathtakingly beautiful freshwater lake located in southwestern Uganda near the Rwanda border. This article explains, step-by-step, how to visit beautiful Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda. I’ll explain transportation, things to do, safety, accommodation, and more. Lake Bunyonyi is an incredibly friendly and easy place to visit on your own. No tour is required.
A little Information about Visiting Lake Bunyonyi
According to science, Lake Bunyonyi is relatively shallow at just 130 feet (about 40 meters). The locals believe that the lake is much deeper. According to some sources, the lake reaches a maximum depth of 2950 feet (900 meters). This would make Lake Bunyonyi the second deepest lake in Africa.
Lake Bunyonyi sits at an elevation of 6437 feet (1962 meters) and is surrounded by beautiful green terraced hills. 29 islands of different shapes and sizes sit scattered across the water. The lake is so beautiful that the Ugandan government decided to put its picture on their 5000 shilling note between 2004 and 2009.
I consider Lake Bunyonyi to be a ‘do not miss’ if you are traveling in East Africa. It is my favorite place in Uganda and was one of the highlights of my whole trip.
When to Visit Lake Bunyonyi
Because the lake is located so near the equator, the weather is comfortable year-round. Temperatures can even get a bit cool at night due to the elevation.
If you are going gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forrest, Lake Bunyonyi is an excellent stop to make to relax either before or after the tour. Lake Bunyonyi is also easily accessible by coach if you are visiting either Kigali and Kampala.
How to get to Lake Bunyonyi by Bus
The closest town to the lake is Kabale which lies about 4 miles (7 kilometers) away. Kabale is easy to reach from both Kampala and Kigali. Many coaches travel between the two cities each day and stop at the nearby town of Kabale.
Many bus companies operate this route. The two best are called Trinity and Jaguar. They have the newest, most comfortable buses. Several other companies operate this route as well but their buses may be older and less comfortable. The service is also less reliable.
Where to Buy Bus Tickets to Lake Bunyonyi
Trinity and Jaguar offer bus service leaving at 7 and 9 am from Kampala. When you purchase your ticket, tell the agent that you want to go to Kabale. Because several buses operate this route each day, it is not necessary to buy tickets in advance. With that being said, I like to buy my tickets a day before just to be safe. It is also less stressful knowing exactly where the bus station is rather than having to search for it early in the morning.
The Trinity ticket office is located near Namirembe road and Old Kampala road. The Jaguar ticket office is just down the street. The buses leave from here as well. Tickets cost between 40,000 and 45,000 UGX.
Both the Trinity and Jaguar bus ticket offices are located at Nyabugogo bus terminal. The buses leave from there as well.
The Bus Ride to Lake Bunyonyi
The ride from Kampala to Kabale takes about 8 hours. The ride from Kigali takes around 2 hours. The road is decent the whole way.
Getting to Lake Bunyonyi By Minibus
If you’re on a tight budget, it is also possible to travel to the lake by minibus. This trip may require some transfers and will take longer than the coach.
- From Kampala- Make your way to the central minibus station and ask around for a bus to Kabale. The attendants will point you in the right direction. You may need to transfer a time or two along the way. Depending how long you have to wait for the minibus to fill up, you should arrive in 8-10 hours.
- From Kigali- Head over to the main bus station, Nyabugogo. You are looking for a bus to the Gatuna border. After crossing, into Uganda begin searching for a minibus to Kabale. The town is just 30 minutes away from the border.
The Uganda Visa
If you are traveling from Kigali, you will be crossing the border into Uganda. You must arrange your visa in advance as it is not available at the border. Luckily, the process is easy and can be done online on the Uganda Visa website.
To apply for the visa, you must attach a copy or photo of your passport, yellow fever vaccine certificate, and a passport-sized photo. This crossing is pretty easy. The application fee is $50. My application was approved the next day. After you receive an email approval, you must print out the attachment to present to the immigration official at the border. The crossing is smooth and efficient.
For more African visa info, check out my Africa Visa Guide.
For more detailed information about the bus, check out my guide: How to Travel from Kampala to Kigali by Bus.
How to get to Lake Bunyonyi from Kabale
After you get off the bus in Kabale, you’ll need to find transportation to the lake. You have two options:
- Boda boda (motorcycle taxi)- This is the cheapest option. The road from Kabale to Lake Bunyonyi is mountainous and very dusty so be prepared to get dirty if you go by boda boda. I made this trip with a friend and we had to walk up some of the hills as the motorcycle didn’t have enough power to carry the driver plus two passengers plus our gear.
- Taxi- This is slightly more expensive but will also be much more comfortable. This ride from Kabale will take 20-30 minutes depending on the condition of the road and how aggressive your taxi driver is.
- Walk- If you’re up for a bit of a hike, you could make the 4 mile walk from Kabale to Lake Bunyonyi. The are is safe and traffic is minimal. You may get a bit dusty.
Where to Stay at Lake Bunyonyi
If you are a budget traveler like me, I would recommend you stay in Kabale. Several budget hotels can be found for around $10 per night. Even though it is not on the lake, the town is very laid back and pleasant to walk around and explore. Be sure to negotiate before paying for a room as they love to overcharge foreigners.
If you’d prefer to stay at the lake, you have several options. You can find everything from camping to higher end lakeside resorts on the shores. Several of the islands also have accommodation options available.
Where I Stayed
I walked around town a bit and checked the price of a few hotels. The first place just wasn’t very friendly so I left. The second was a bit over my budget. I ended up staying at a place called Capricorn Executive Hotel.
From the outside, the hotel looked like it would be out of my budget. Lucky for me, business was slow so I was able to negotiate the room for only $10 per night. It ended up being one of the most comfortable hotel rooms of the whole trip. It was spotlessly clean and seemed to be pretty new. The room included a flat screen tv, private bathroom, and a comfortable queen-sized bed. I recommend the place.
Things to do at Lake Bunyonyi
The lake offers something for everyone. If you’re like me and you prefer to just relax and take in the sites, you can do that. If you prefer to be active and get your heart rate up, you can do that too.
Take a walk around
This is an excellent place to just take a stroll, shoot a few photos, and enjoy the scenery. There are no big cities on the shores of the lake, just a few small villages. The air and water are clean and the weather is comfortable.
It is also worthwhile to take a walk around the town of Kabale. I found it to be a really pleasant small African town. You can walk around the whole town in an hour or so. The people are friendly and it’s affordable for a budget traveler. I found the area really relaxing.
Go for a canoe or kayak ride
Canoes and Kayaks rentals are available at several locations on the lake. Guided tours are also available. The traditional mode of transport here is the dugout canoe which you can also rent.
When you arrive at the lake, tour guides will approach you and offer tours and rentals. Make sure to negotiate hard as the first rate they quote will be high.
Once you’re in your canoe, be sure to check out some of the 29 islands in the lake. More info on that later.
Go on a boat ride
Motorboat tours are also available if you don’t feel like paddling. The tour guides can point you in the right direction. Check out some of the 29 islands of the lake. Again, negotiate hard as these guys like to overcharge.
The name Bunyonyi means “place of many little birds” in the local language. More than 200 species inhabit the area. I’m not really into bird watching but I do know that Lake Bunyonyi is a prime location for the hobby.
Visit the Islands
Lake Bunyonyi has 29 islands including “Punishment Island” where, as the story goes, unmarried pregnant girls were dropped off to starve or, if they were lucky, be picked up by a poor man who couldn’t afford a wife. This practice stopped in the early 20th century.
A couple of the islands have eco resorts where you can camp or stay in a bungalow.
Go for a hike
There are some beautiful hiking trails in the area to explore. The terrain is quite hilly which makes for some incredible views if you make it to the top. Simply walking the road next to the lake is also nice. Traffic is low and the air is clean. You can also see some incredible views from the road.
Go for a swim
It is safe to swim in the lake. No dangerous parasites are present and the water is hippo and crocodile free. Surprisingly though, the water is quite cold.
Go for a bike ride
Bicycles can be rented at various places around the lake and in Kabale. Traffic is light so cycling here is safe and fun. The road is not paved but it is in decent condition. Cycling is a great way to explore the villages and the shore of the lake in less time than walking would take. You can also find some nice mountain biking trails near the main road.
While exploring the area, you will see locals in traditional dugout boats fishing the lake. They aren’t just doing this for fun. Lake Bunyonyi provides a lot of food for people living in the area.
The two most popular meals from the lake are tilapia and crayfish. You can find restaurants all over the area serving this up at affordable prices.
Staying Safe at Lake Bunyonyi
Overall, Lake Bunyonyi is a pretty safe place to visit. A few things to look out for are:
- Malaria- The lake is a malaria zone. Be sure to cover up during peak mosquito times and wear insect repellent with DEET. I like Repel 100. You should also sleep under a mosquito net. I recommend the Dimples Excel Mosquito Net. For more information on the disease, check out my extensive article: The Travelers Guide to Malaria Prevention, Treatment, and Tablets in Africa.
- Auto accidents- The ride between Kabale and Lake Bunyonyi is a bit sketchy. The road is not in the best condition. Motorcycle drivers like to go fast and make the trip more dangerous than it has to be. For safety and comfort sake, you may want to take a taxi on this 7-kilometer trip. It will be slightly more expensive but also much safer.
For more general safety information, check out my article: Is Travel in Africa Safe? Avoiding Crime, Disease, Injury, and Scams. Also, check out my guide: Is Uganda Safe?
Final Thoughts on Visiting Lake Bunyonyi
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Lake Bunyonyi and will definitely return one day. Many places in Africa are crowded and just a hassle to visit. This place is different. It is quiet, relaxing, and easy to get around. Prices are reasonable as the area hasn’t been overrun with tourists yet. I highly recommend you take the time to visit Lake Bunyonyi if you are traveling in Uganda.
Have you visited any lakes in Africa? Which is your favorite?
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